Five Photographs to Study

We have looked at a lot of images, here are five that I recommend you do a deeper dive on. These are images some would consider iconic, some that have been written about extensively and some that have resonated with me for a very long time.

Again, by no means exhaustive, but how do these images make you feel? What do you need to know about them? Why have they persisted?

Start with those links, then explore some more. Each of those images has had many reviews and assessments done, what can you learn from them?

Documenting the Every Day

(This is also posted in eLC.)

A pair of things you may want to look at …

Stryker’s America: Photographing the Great Depression (you’ll need to log in to your MyID account to see this through the library is a 23 minute documentary about Roy Stryker, the leader of the Farm Securities Administration’s photographic division. Basically, he’s the guy who hired Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, etc., to document the Great Depression. Pay close attention to how he assigned photographers – they went out with scripts to document programs but he also encouraged them to look around, which is what we need to be doing now.

This second piece – The Colorful Mr. Eggleston – is a little different for me to be recommending. William Eggleston’s work is collected within the art world, not many would ever consider him to be a photojournalist. But there are documentary tendencies to his work so there’s some value in this. (Well, excepting the third quarter of this – I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s gets weird for about 10 minutes. It involves Andy Warhol, an infrared video camera, a dentist who gets murdered, a mistress and drugs. A lot of drugs. Feel free to skip past that segment.)

Eggleston was the first major fine art photographer to work in color, which seems really strange to be thinking about now. I like the way this documentary approaches his work, “photographing democratically” is the phrase that gets used and I think it works. He photographs the banal, the gaps in everyday life. 

That third quarter, though … weirdness happens.

I haven’t found a higher resolution version of this, so be aware the quality is rough. You can see some more of his work on the Eggleston Art Foundation web site and I’d encourage you to spend some time there (and elsewhere, lots of his work is online). He sees very differently, breaks a lot of the rules we have talked about but in ways that just work. 

Curious to hear what you think of each of these.

And You’re Back

Well, sort of … this is all still kind of weird.

Most of our communications will be within eLC, but I wanted to share a couple of tips with you.

1. In case you forgot about this over spring break, dig into the menu on your camera and make sure you adjusted the time.

2. Try to get back to a routine. I know, I know – I sound like your parents, but the science is pretty clear on working from home. Get up, get dressed, get yourself some breakfast – the more you can normalize this time the easier it’ll be to adjust. (My wife gave me a hard time this morning about putting on a dress shirt – I just feel different when I dress for work.) (And, yes, I’ll wear a tie and my Seiko watch for class sessions, even if you don’t care. I do.)

3. Find a place to work. Your couch is oh-so-comfy, but it may not be the most conducive place to think critically. Alton Brown has crusaded against unitaskers – kitchen devices that only serve one purpose – but I’m a fan of them. Your couch, definitely NOT a unitasker. Try and set yourself up a little place to concentrate, to keep your notes and computer easily accessible. For those of you who have headed back home, this is also a way to tell the family, “HEY – Back Off! This is my little piece of university, the place you’ve spent years telling me I have to go to and then to do well at – I can’t do well at this if you’re haranguing me about the dishes.”

3a. Find a way to work with your family, they didn’t sign on for your sudden, sullen return either. Remember Taco Stand downtown? Bus your own table and be cognizant that their lives are as tumultuous as yours right now.

4. Schedule some down time and some connect time. Hopefully you’re doing this already, but setting up a video chat with some friends or classmates every other day or so can be a great way to keep connected. (And, since you’re curious, yes, I’m doing this, as well – we have a weekly session going with three colleagues and, sometime this week, we’re going to put the laptop at the end of the kitchen table and “have dinner” with another colleague and her husband.) Make a cup of coffee and FaceTime a Friend, those connections are important.

5. If you’re doing some synchronous class work (Zoom, Collaborate in eLC, Hangouts, etc.), think about the space you’ll be in. We’ve talked about lighting quality and quantity, we’ve talked about background control – are you going to look like the fellow ratting out the corporate looters, silhouetted against a giant window? Or are you going to think about the 36 Faces assignment and put a window to your side (but not visible in the frame), so you get some nice light on you? We’re the visual folks – think about the visuals.

5a. You understand the concept of an Easter egg? Go ahead and put one in the background, see who catches it.

6. Continuing on with that, think about where your camera is. You want it to be stable (one more reason to get off the couch) and at about eye level – we’re here to learn, not investigate that little bit of gingivitis that’s occurring by your upper left molar …

7. You’re a Dawg – pets are welcome to make appearances in class. (Aren’t you glad you didn’t go to Tech? I mean, would you want to bring a nest of Yellowjackets to class?)

8. Virtual office hours will start today. Same time (Monday, 3:30-4:30 and Tuesday, 12:30-1:30) but now on the ubiquitous Zoom platform.

8a. I did a Google Hangout/Meet with my family yesterday. At one point we had 20 people on the call, but Google’s platform was only showing four people at a time. It was like watching the Hollywood Squares while doing speed and dropping acid. I will say, the live closed captioning was … wild. According to Google, my 78 year old aunt and her baby brother had this exchange:

9. The Photo Cave will be here when you return. And we will all return, in some way, shape or form. But, until then, let’s remember we are a community that cares, we are a community that shares and we are a community that perseveres. Make sure you are documenting this time. (Maybe we should do an Instagram hashtag to tell our stories. Thoughts?)

Stay safe, check in on folks who need checking in on and wash your hands.

Images with Value


What is the purpose of a photograph? In our field, we have several standard answers – to tell a story, to inform our community, to evoke a response.

To me, I use a camera not to make pictures but to share ideas, to raise questions and, hopefully, to answer some. I make pictures of things I don’t understand or haven’t seen before. I try not to make photos of things that others have photographed often, but that doesn’t mean I don’t photograph what is around everyone – as a trained observer of the human condition, I try to photograph things that are present but not necessarily known.

Over at The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston writes about the types of images he wants to look at – which is sometimes different than the types of images he makes.

I suppose the most telling question I would ask of a photograph is, why should I look at this? Why should this picture interest me? Or, to put it the correct way ’round: why should anyone else look at this? Why should this picture interest someone else?

ASSIGNMENT: Seeing Details and the Multimedia Story

Seeing Details

Choose one place and document the details of it using just your smartphone. Find 10 things most folks would not pay attention to in the room – you are the trained observer. Look for light, texture, wear, history, craftsmanship.

Look for evidence of us.

You’ll want to get close, very, very close – fill the frame up. One of the advantages to using a smartphone is it’s ability to focus closely – take advantage of that ability.

Due by 12 noon on Monday, March 16.

I mentioned a blog post in class that I wrote two years ago. None of you were able to meet my colleague and friend Barry Hollander, but he was an important part of this college and he left a detail I still see every day.

The Multimedia Story

Start thinking about the (multimedia) story you want to tell. Choose an interesting character, someone who does visual things (in good light). Do not choose an event. No retail stories. Choose a maker, a doer.

Bring a printed one paragraph pitch for three ideas on March 17.

Be specific.

Lange and the Development of Modern Photojournalism

Since we’ve been discussing her work, this is well worth reading: Alice Gregory at The New York Times’ Style Magazine takes a look at the role of Dorothea Lange in the growth of photojournalism as the Museum of Modern Art opens their second retrospective on her.

Sigh … I may have to go to New York again …

Her contemporary Ansel Adams called her pictures “both records of actuality and exquisitely sensitive emotional documents.” She was an artist under the guise of a journalist and an activist under the guise of a dispassionate civil servant, and it would be impossible to think of any of these roles today without her influence.

And this section, written about her final months:

Lange was only eating soft foods by this point and rarely ventured outside. She kept a camera around her neck, though, “for health,” and continued to take photographs — of her house, of her family.

Street Photography

I tend to not talk about this too much because, with a few notable exceptions, I don’t understand it. Why would we want to make random photos of random people on random streets?

I’ll also confess that I want to do this, quite often. Even bought a lens just to do this before a trip to New York City in 2018. (A lens I put up for sale this morning because, well, I don’t think I’ve used it since that trip.)

There are some exceptions, though, and the Washington Post’s Robert Miller is now a clear exception – his set of images about Love in Plain Sight is thematically linked and exquisitely seen, little slices of affection amongst the daily hustle.

(The image above is one I made on that last NYC trip and not related to Miller’s.) (I think).

ASSIGNMENT: The Portrait

A portrait, completely controlled, of someone we should know about on campus. SHOW US something about them, tell their story, in a single frame. Due on eLC by 12 noon on Monday, February 24.

Some tips …

  • Choose your subject carefully. Make sure there is something visual that you can include – this is an environmental portrait, one where we should see what someone looks like and why we need to know about them in the same frame.
  • You control this – you’re in charge of when and where this is shot, what’s in the frame and what’s not. How they pose, which way they look, what they wear, the angle you shoot from – all of those are your responsibility.
  • Think carefully about light – quality, as we discussed in class, as well as quantity. I can’t stress this enough – don’t add unnecessary challenges by choosing someone who does not exist in good light. What’s the right light? What’s the right mood to establish the story?
  • Give yourself enough time – be honest with them when setting this up, you’re slow with the camera. Gregory Heisler can get it done in 10-15 minutes, you’re going to need more. And make a lot of frames – different angles, different focal lengths. Move around, experiment – take what you learned from the effects of focal length from the Depth of Field and 36 Faces assignments and apply it here.
  • Don’t wait. Start now.

(Don’t forget that you need a complete caption.)

Here’s some more on Heisler, one of the greats of our time:

Gregory Heisler on Arnold Newman, Inspiration, ADD, and more from Maine Media Workshops + College on Vimeo.

Heisler made several references to Arnold Newman, so here’s an interview with him:

Look at the way light wraps, slices through and hides in his frames.

Some more info on portraits …

Jane Bown’s obituary contained some of her work and her approach to it.

And, of course, the master of celebrity portraiture, Annie Leibovitz is worth spending some time with.

ASSIGNMENT: Reading

First, take a look at this site that Yunghi Kim has been working on – Trailblazers of Light looks at the women who have built the foundation go photojournalism. (And you should study her work, too – amazing stuff.)

Second, in On Being a Photographer, please read the following segments:

  • Introduction
  • About the Photographer
  • Some Definitions
  • Selecting a Subject
  • Shooting the Single Picture
  • Creating Contacts

Some of this will make reference to film-age techniques, but we will translate it to modern technologies.